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Under new name, Oertel Metal Works celebrates 30 years

Under new name, Oertel Metal Works celebrates 30 years by Devan Patel

DAVENPORT — A lot has changed since Billy Oertel founded Oertel Sheet Metal in 1988.

Celebrating its 30th year, the company has grown from a two-man operation to more than 40 employees, and moved two years ago to a new 36,000-square-foot facility on the 9400 block of Zenith Road.

As similar businesses have folded, the company has continued to add more services, so much so that it has taken on a new name, Oertel Metal Works.

"The company has evolved and continues to evolve its capabilities, the diversity of its workforce and the scope of the industries it covers," General Manager Jerry Downs said.

The company's focus started on architectural sheeting, but its foundations for what it is today began in 1995 when Ronald Bivens left the Schebler Co. to start the custom fabrication arm at Oertel.

As time went on, the company began to shift away from the architectural side although it left its footprint along the Furniture Row shopping area on Elmore Avenue with all the colorful metal work.

"That really has grown into everything that is here today," Downs said. "We hardly do any architectural anymore."

Instead, a lot of the metal work the company provides is both directly and indirectly involved in products composed of steel, stainless steel, aluminum, copper, brass and plastic.

For example, the steel that holds together the frame of the soft serve machine at Dairy Queen is provided by Oertel.

Its products are regularly shipped to the 48 contiguous states, Mexico and Canada.

Downs said that after the McCarthy-Bush Corp. purchased the company in 2001, he's seen the company grow linearly.

That's led to building relationships and attracting customers from all kinds of industries.

"We do a lot of work with many local machine shops, manufacturers and suppliers in the area," Downs said. "It's all these industries: mining, steel making, agricultural, food processing and railroads. Our products cover a lot of things and it's not just things that we build."

From month to month, the products and projects can shift.

This week, there were a lot of small items, including an abundance of metal work for rail cars, that was being readied to be shipped. Next month, it might be completely different, based on customers' needs.

"We have 22-foot wide overhead door out there and since we've been here, we've built items that barely fit through that door," Downs said. "We never really know what we're going to build a month from now."

Owner representative Tom Bush said the company's proximity to the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center and Interstate 80 has been a positive for customers. With Sterilite and Kraft Heinz building plants nearby, the company hopes to draw additional business from them.

Based upon the company's trajectory, Bush has been looking at nearby property to expand the footprint of the existing facility.

In the meantime, sales representative and estimator Chris Mekus said the company has made a $700,000 capital investment with the purchase of 4,000-watt laser that will help attract more customers.

For some metal pieces that used to take six minutes to cut so thin, the new technology allows it to be done in about a minute.

"With the new laser we have, it's about as state-of-the-art technology for lasers in the Quad-Cities," Mekus said. "There are certain customers that once they found out we have it, they've said once we're in production, they are going to start looking at us for work."

As Downs led a tour through the facility on Tuesday, he stopped to ask a worker preparing a  pallet if he thought it was an above-average week.

At least 30 feet of pallets destined for Valdosta, Georgia, were stacked with rail car panels.

The response that it was a "light day" surprised even Downs somewhat, despite the continued growth he's witnessed.

-- Devan Patel, Quad City Times: January 18, 2018

-- Image taken by Quad City Times